December 20, 2014

Vermont Gas pipeline— is it worth the wetlands?

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By Kim Greenwood
The Vermont Gas Systems’ proposal to build a gas pipeline in Chittenden and Addison counties has come under criticism, and rightly so, for a variety of reasons.
It would lock more Vermonters into decades of fossil fuel dependency, and the line will also ship gas that has been “fracked” out of the ground, threatening water sources across the country. (Remember, Vermont several years ago banned the practice of fracking.)
What most people don’t know is that the project would also have the largest impact on wetlands—in fact twice as much impact in terms of acres—of any project approved in Vermont in the last ten years, according to Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
At least 28 acres of wetlands would be affected by this project. For context, the majority of projects in Vermont that require a wetland permit affect about a half acre or less of wetlands. (An acre is about the size of a football field.)
Another way to look at it is this: the Vermont Gas project will impact as much wetland acreage as all other wetland impacts across the state in an average year in Vermont.
Wetlands help control floods because they soak up precipitation, acting as a sponge. Wetlands along the Otter Creek were credited with sparing downtown Middlebury big destruction during tropical Storm Irene.
Wetlands are also nature’s water filters. If we want to clean up places like Lake Champlain, wetlands need to be left alone to do their job, especially in the Champlain Valley where this pipeline is proposed. Destroying wetlands undermines nature’s ability to manage pollution being dumped in to the lake, and all nearby water bodies.
Wetlands have other values too: they provide key habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including insects, amphibians, fish, birds and mammals. They also serve as outdoor classrooms where young Vermonters can learn about the world around them.
Vermont has already lost a lot of wetlands. The Agency of Natural Resources estimates that Vermont has lost about 35 percent of our wetlands since Vermont was settled by Europeans. And, Vermont has a policy that there should be no net loss of wetlands in the state.
We all need energy and energy requires infrastructure. But we also always need to fully understand the tradeoffs of any development. We wonder: with all the negatives, is this gas pipeline project really worth it?

Kim Greenwood is Vermont Natural Resources Council’s water program director/staff scientist.

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